I’ve spent the past several weeks laboring with intense focus to complete a full, finished draft of A Bone to Pick, the second novel in the XK9 “Bones” Trilogy. (The first book, What’s Bred in the Bone, is now available. But pausing from our labors to consider the accomplishments of the labor movement is a big part of the point of Labor Day in the United States.
What are the accomplishments of the labor movement? The list is pretty long, and these freedoms–many of which we now take for granted–were not easily won. It’s worth a closer look to consider what ideas, values and privileges established we owe to organized labor.
A list from The Hartmann Report itemizes several categories of accomplishments.
Equity and Social Justice
The labor movement achieved the end of child labor, the right to form unions, and the rights of public sector workers to unionize. Unions supported the passage of the Civil Rights Acts and Title VII Prohibition of discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, and also passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and the Family Medical Leave Act.
Things we take for granted
Among the accomplishments of the labor movement are things we today would consider essential. But never forget that each of them had to be fought for. There was a time when they were not considered to be rights at all. I’m talking about the idea of weekends, the establishment of the 8-hour work week, and also the idea of paying extra for overtime (some of our bosses still haven’t gotten that memo, but many have). Likewise, the idea that sick leave, paid vacations, and days off on holidays are rights originated with the labor movement.
Rights that are slipping away, if we’re not careful
We may have established a guaranteed minimum wage, but is it a living wage? Low-wage workers currently often have to work several jobs to support themselves and their families, thanks to convoluted arguments that obfuscate and justify unfair practices that have led to growing levels of income inequality.
Pensions are another area of growing uncertainty. Winning pensions for workers was a major accomplishment of the labor movement, but under-funded and poorly-performing pension funds are becoming a national crisis. A related issue, the idea of sick leave, paid vacations, and days off on holidays are rights is eroding away in the gig economy.
And then there’s employer-provided health care–another whole can of worms that I’ll leave for another day.
IMAGE CREDIT: Many thanks to 123RF for this Labor Day greeting graphic.